Geometry Part 7: Area and Perimeter

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Today’s topic is the measurement of area and perimeter.  Even though these may be considered measurement standards, they are highly connected to geometry (such as the attributes of a rectangle). Check out previous posts in my Geometry series (Composing and Decomposing) for other mentions of area and perimeter.

Misconceptions provide a window into a child’s thinking.  If we know the misconceptions ahead of time, we can steer our teaching and directions to help students avoid them. I will go through several misconceptions and some strategies and/or lessons that might address them. Misconceptions #1-2 appear in this post. Misconceptions #3-5 will be featured in next week’s post.

Misconception #1:  A student hears this:  “We use area to measure inside a shape and perimeter to measure around a shape.”

  • Problem:  The student doesn’t know how to apply this definition to real situations which require the measurement of area and/or perimeter.
  • Problem:  The student may think, “Since perimeter measures the outside edge, then area means to measure the inside edge.”
  • Problem:  Students confuse the two terms.


  • Brainstorm with students (with your guidance) examples of the need for area and perimeter. Use these scenarios as you solve concrete or pictorial examples.
    • Area:  garden, room size, ceiling tiles, carpet, rug, floor tiles, football field, tv screen, wallpaper, wall paint, etc.
    • Perimeter:  picture frame, fencing, floor trim, wallpaper border, bulletin board border . . .
  • Show this diagram which emphasizes the concept that area measures the entire inside surface using squares of different sizes (cm, inch, foot, yard, mile), while perimeter measures the rim / edge / around an object or shape usually using a ruler, tape measure, or string.  
  • Try this project: Use graph paper and one inch tiles (color tiles) to concretely make shapes with a given area.  Example, “Build a rectangle with an area of 24 tiles.” Specify there can be no holes in the rectangle — it must be solid. Students can experiment while moving the tiles around. Then trace the rectangle and cut it out. With this practice, students are also focusing on arrays and multiplication.  Did they find 4 ways? (2 x 12, 3 x 8, 4 x 6, 1 x 24)? Did they find out a 3 x 8 rectangle is the same as an 8 x 3 rectangle (commutative property)?
    • Note:  Make sure students stay on the given lines when tracing their shapes and cutting. I found this to be difficult for many students even though I said explicitly to “Stay on the lines when you trace.”
  • NO – this is not a solid rectangle. No holes allowed.

  • Similar to the above:  Use the tiles and graph paper to create irregular shapes with a given area – meaning they don’t have to be rectangular. Give the directive that tiles must match at least one edge with another edge (no tip to tip accepted).  And, same as above — no holes in the shape. You can even assign different areas to each small group.  Compare shapes – put on a poster or bulletin board.
  • Using the same shapes made above, determine the perimeter.  I suggest placing tick mark to keep track of what was counted. With this lesson, students will hopefully realize shapes with the same area do not necessarily have the same perimeter. Advise caution when counting corners or insets – students usually miscount these places. 
  • Try this project:  Design a bedroom with dimensions of (or square feet of): ___________ Include a bed, and at least one other piece of furniture or feature (nightstand, dresser, desk, shelf, chair, closet, etc.)
    • The student can use smaller scale graph paper with 1 square representing 1 square foot.
    • Let them have time to “work it out” and practice perseverance as a rough draft before making their final copy.
    • Together, use the square foot construction paper pieces to determine an appropriate size for a bed and other furniture. Students must think of it from an overhead perspective. When I did this with a class, we settled on 3 ft. x 6 ft bed for a total of 18 square feet. We did this by laying the square foot papers on the floor to see in real life what this size looked like.
    • Label the Area and Perimeter of each item in the bedroom.
    • The items in the bedroom could also be made as separate cut-outs and arranged / rearranged on the “floor plan” to see all of the different ways the room could look.
    • Students in 3rd grade might want to use whole units, while 4th and up might be able to use half-units.
  • On a test, area answer choices would include ” ____ square inches” or “inches squared” or “inches²”  Answer choices for perimeter will omit the word “square.”

Continue reading

Geometry Part 5: Composing and Decomposing 3D Shapes (+ surface area)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Composing and decomposing 3D shapes should help your students become more familiar with their attributes. Here are a few activities to help.  With emphasis on hands-on methods, examining real 3D shapes may help students find edges, vertices, and faces better than pictorial models.

  1.  Nets of 3D shapes are the least expensive way to get a set of 3D objects in each child’s hand, especially since most classrooms just usually have 1 set of plastic or wooden 3D shapes.
  2.  Build cubes and rectangular prisms using blocks or connecting cubes.
  3. Construct / deconstruct prisms using toothpicks, straws, coffee stirrers, craft sticks, or pretzel sticks as the edges. For the vertices, use clay, playdough, gum drops or slightly dried out marshmallows.
  4. Lucky enough to have a set of tinker toys? Or Magna Tiles? (We got our grandson some Magna Tiles and he loves them!  These tiles have magnetic edges which can hook together in an instant. Creating a cube, rectangular prism, pyramid, etc. is easy!  They are kind of expensive, but very versatile and creative.)
  5. Teach students how to draw 3D shapes. When composing a 3D shape, a student becomes more aware of the 2D faces, the edges, and the vertices they are drawing. Plus, if needed the student can draw the 3D shape on paper to assist them if taking a computer based assessment.  Here is my tutorial (below), but I’ll also include a couple of good websites in case you are 3D challenged. Click HERE for the pdf of the templates below.
  6. Observe how students count the edges, vertices, and faces.  If they are randomly trying to count them, they likely will be incorrect.  When needed, show them how to be methodical with their counting (ie: When counting the edges of a cube, run your finger along the edge as you count. Count the top 4 edges, then the bottom 4 edges, then the 4 vertical edges = 12.)

One of my favorite lessons regarding decomposing shapes is when teaching students (5th grade and up) how to measure surface area.  Click HERE for the free pdf guide for creating the rectangular prisms shown below.  It includes a blank grid so you can create your own (all courtesy of using their “dynamic paper” lesson). Continue reading

Geometry Part 1: The Basics

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

For many schools, it seems as if Geometry and Measurement standards remain some of the lowest scored. This has always puzzled me because it’s the one area in math that is (or should be) the most hands-on — which is appealing and more motivating to students. Who doesn’t like creating with pattern blocks, making 2 and 3D shapes with various objects, using measurement tools, and getting the chance to leave your seat to explore all the classroom has to offer regarding these standards? So what is it about geometry and measurement that is stumping our students? Here are some of my thoughts – please feel free to comment and add your own:

  • Vocabulary? (segment, parallel, trapezoid, perpendicular, volume, area, perimeter, etc.)
  • Lack of practical experience? Not all homes have materials or provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge (like blocks, Legos, measuring cups for cooking, tape measures for building, etc.).
  • Background knowledge about the size of actual objects? We take it for granted students know a giraffe is taller than a pickup truck. But if students have not had the chance to go to a zoo, then when they are presented a picture of the two objects they might not really know which is taller / shorter. Think of all of the examples of how we also expect students to know the relative weights of objects. Without background knowledge or experience, this could impede them regarding picture type assessments.
  • Standards keep getting pushed to lower grades when students may not have reached the conservation stage? If they think a tall slender container must hold more than a shorter container with a larger diameter, or they think a sphere of clay is less than the same size sphere flattened out, they may have difficulty with many of the geometry and measurement standards.

In this post, I will focus on Geometry. Here is a basic look at the geometry continuum (based on OK Stds.):

KG:  Recognize and sort basic 2D shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle). This includes composing larger shapes using smaller shapes (with an outline available).

1st:  Recognize, compose, and decompose 2D and 3D shapes. The new 2D shapes are hexagon and trapezoid. 3D shapes include cube, cone, cylinder, sphere.

2nd: Analyze attributes of 2D figures. Compose 2D shapes using triangles, squares, hexagons, trapezoids and rhombi. Recognize right angles and those larger or smaller than right angles.

3rd:  Sort 3D shapes based on attributes. Build 3D figures using cubes. Classify angles: acute, right, obtuse, straight.

4th:  Name, describe, classify and construct polygons and 3D figures.  New vocabulary includes points, lines, segments, rays, parallel, perpendicular, quadrilateral, parallelogram, and kite.

5th: Describe, classify, and draw representations of 2D and 3D figures. Vocabulary includes edge, face, and vertices. Specific triangles include equilateral, right, scalene, and isosceles.

Here are a couple of guides that might help you with definitions of the various 2D shapes. The 2D shapes guide is provided FREE here in a PDF courtesy of  I included a b/w version along with my colored version. The Quadrilateral flow chart I created will help you see that some shapes can have more than one name. Click on the link for a free copy (b/w and color) of the flow chart. Read below for more details about understanding the flow chart.

PLEASE note these very important concepts: Continue reading

Using Color Tiles to Measure Area of Irregular Shapes

by C. Elkins

I have heard from a few 4th grade teachers that a new standard is difficult for their students to grasp. It is 4.GM.2.2: Find the area of polygons that can be decomposed into rectangles.

I have a couple of suggestions which help students with a concrete-pictorial-abstract progression approach to this problem (which is more developmentally appropriate).

  1. I have attached an activity which involves the use of 1” color tiles to partition off irregular shapes and then determine the area of each smaller rectangle. It’s free and in 2 parts:
  2. I located an excellent reference which shows pictorially how to do this step-by-step. It also includes good information about perimeter. It is:  Area and Perimeter

Some troubleshooting tips:  Continue reading